Here is what I had to say last week about the season finale:
It looks like next episode will revolve around the summit between the three sovereigns (four, I guess, if anyone bothered to invite Euron). I hope Bran or Sam+Gilly are on hand to vouch for Jon’s true parentage and undercut Cersei’s blood and soil spiel next week—Jon doesn’t just have the strongest claim to the throne, he has also lived his entire life in Westeros. I imagine something will go down. Weddings aren’t the only bloody affairs in Westeros.
I convinced my wife to watch with me for the finale, and she whinged about my laptop screen, and, hell, it is the season finale. So I put the laptop away. Given that, this post will be a bit different. Instead of a separate recap and reaction, I will do both together.
I also have a Game of Thrones post planned for tomorrow (you can find it here).
Keep dry during Hurricane Spoilers.
Recap and Reaction
With one exception that I will get to, this was a perfect episode. I stayed on the edge of my seat.
Seriously. Every scene was pivotal. Every scene I. didn’t. know. what. was. going. to. happen. Not only did they all work the way they went, they would have worked had they gone otherwise, and I was willing to believe the writers would go there. There may not have been anything as truly jaw dropping as what we’ve seen in some Game of Thrones episodes, but I dare say this is the strongest episode of the entire series from first minute to last. After a very uneven season, what a relief (and therein lies my only real complaint).
The episode opens with the summit. Unsullied and Dothraki screamers (how long since we’ve heard that term?) on one side, the Lannisters on the other. They are meeting in the ruins of the Targaryen dragon pit. Symbolically, it works, for us and for them. It is a symbol that the Targaryens ruled Westeros for many years, and that they did it on the backs of their dragons. And it is a symbol that they came to ruin.
Jon asks how many people live in King’s Landing. One million (give or take). This is a pretty incredible amount for a medieval city, more than any European city during the Middle Ages. And it is as many people as are in all of the North. This, at least, is in keeping with the books. The North is as large area-wise as the other six kingdoms combined but has the smallest population. Jon uses the population number for King’s Landing later to good effect. Dany also almost certainly lies about how many dead there are (for now). Are there a hundred thousand dead to raise north of the Wall (remember, the Wildlings burn their dead)? But, unlike Jon, Dany understands the truth can stand to be gilded a bit at times.
The scene with the wight works so damn well. The pause letting tension rise while the Hound hauls the box into the arena. The pause making it seem like maybe the wight has met his second death. The wight almost reaching Cersei. The reactions of everyone involved.
Cersei is duly impressed. That or she is a good actor. (But we know she is.) She is willing to agree to the proffered truce. With one exception. She wants “The King in the North” and “Ned Stark’s son” to refuse to ever ride south to wage war against her. One, I’m thinking of the Power of Exact Words, and two, I’m wondering what Cersei knows. Why is that the accession she asks for? It isn’t one that makes sense. Unless she is playing Jon like a fiddle, which later events would suggest. Jon, who has spent seasons harping on an existential threat to the entirety of Westeros, refuses. Look, if something is an existential threat, then you need to be willing to sacrifice lower priority items to address it. If you won’t, then either it isn’t an existential threat or you’re an asshole (yes, this is a political metaphor).
Tyrion heads off to attempt to reason with Cersei. “That thing you dragged here. I know what it is. I know what it means.” I wonder what Qyburn has been telling Cersei. He certainly knows that death can be defeated. Are his methods entirely divorced from those of the Night King? Will the Night King be able to control the Mountain? Anyway, that gets derailed by Tyrion picking up on the fact that Cersei is pregnant.
That, and the next scene, where Cersei purports to accept the truce fully, raise more questions. Was Tyrion’s deduction brilliant or did he just pick up on Cersei’s very intentional, rather obvious holding of her belly? Why set Jon up to derail things just to accept later? Did she want to drive a wedge between Jon and Dany? (That, at least, failed miserably.) Did she want to drag things out to make them seem believable? Is there a side deal with Tyrion that we never become privy to this episode? Why does she say she will march north instead of just accepting the truce? Is it just to lull them into maximum complacency?
This episode is dominated by the summit. The secondary plot concerns Winterfell. Littlefinger is working his manipulative magic on Sansa and appearing to succeed totally. We as the audience believe this, because Sansa is stupid. That isn’t a character picking up the Idiot Ball, but characterization. Littlefinger appears to have Sansa pointed squarely at Arya. The setup is perfect. Littlefinger says to always imagine someone is acting on their worst possible impulse. The audience is thinking of Littlefinger, but Littlefinger has Sansa talking of Arya.
Theon wants to attempt a rescue mission for Yara in the tertiary, and by far least interesting, plot thread of this episode. He beats another ironborn to a bloody pulp in a lame fight and gains a small crew for his attempt. Based on what we later learn, he may find a lightly defended Iron Islands. If Yara is even there.
Now that we’re done with crap we don’t care about, Sansa summons Arya to the Great Hall. Stark soldiers line the walls. Stark soldiers, not lords. Perhaps the only lord in attendance is the guy from the Eyrie. Bran is beside Sansa. Arya asks if this is really what she wants. Sansa says no, it is what honor demands. Her family and the North must be defended. “You stand accused of murder, and you stand accused of treason. How do you answer these charges…Lord Baelish.”
This is so perfect. I’m not going to go and jump on #TeamSansa. But she does use what she has. She has full knowledge. Littlefinger is the architect of an entire series’ pain. She has Bran. Littlefinger insists that no one really knows what happened, but they do. And in Winterfell, before a hall full of northman soldiers, the words of three Starks have the weight of a thousand years of history at Winterfell, and Littlefinger’s none at all. He asks that Eyrie lord for protection, but is refused. We’ve never seen Sansa or anyone but Littlefinger cultivate Robin (brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin), but he isn’t here. And we know that one lord despises Littlefinger. He isn’t about to stick his neck out. And whether Littlefinger sticks his neck out or not, Arya cuts it, with the same dagger of Valyrian steel that started so much killing.
(This appears to either be a mistake, a fib, or a difference between book and show. In the book, the dagger belonged to Joffrey, who madly gave it to a hired killer in a mad attempt to gain his neglectful father’s favor based on an off comment.)
It is a tremendous, North Remembers scene. Littlefinger is out of his depth. He is a master maneuverer in the south, but this is the North. Honor matters, family matters, the Stark name matters, and death comes cheap.
In King’s Landing, Cersei reveals the truth. She has no intention to honor her pledge. Euron is headed to Essos to ferry the Golden Company back to Westeros. Jaime, though, has a series’ long arc to consider. He still feels the shame of betraying his vows as a King’s Guard and earning the name Kingslayer. I really and honestly believed Cersei was going to have Jaime killed there. That’s damned fine writing. But she doesn’t, and perhaps cannot. Jaime leaves. What does this mean? He is the most notorious man in Westeros. It is a name that may command a lot of loyalty, or that may get him killed. He rides as snow begins to fall, even in the south. Winter has truly come.
Sam and Bran meet, and we get one of those scenes fantasy fans always scream for, where the characters with information get together and figure everything out. Sam doesn’t know what it means when Bran says he’s the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran should tell him it means he is a wizard. Between the two, they put together both that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark and that the marriage was legal in the eyes of the Church. Of course Cersei was able to destroy the Church with zero consequences whatsoever, so who really cares? Anyway, Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie (and a bunch of fire and blood, to be fair). While this is happening, Jon visits Dany for some of that famous ship nookie. His real name is Aegon Targaryen. Ned knew, and never told anyone.
It is hard to see what Ned could have possibly done about that. Except maybe never leave the North. Maybe it doesn’t save the realm, but, shit, Jon could have shed a lot of emo angst had he known. Was Ned’s plan to tell him only after he took the Black, because taking the Black means the knowledge is now irrelevant? (Assuming we’re in a world where things like deserting the Night’s Watch matter.)
The final scene opens with Tormund and Beric Dondarrion on the Wall. The army of the dead approaches. And, yes, they have a zombie dragon. A zombie dragon that breathes blue flame? Anyway, it destroys the Wall (well, a section). I called it! Sort of. Don’t believe me? Check the comments. I still don’t understand the dragon’s breath—Is it blue flame? Is it ice?—but it makes sense regardless. Even the dragon zombie flying with holes in its wings makes sense. Magic is deeply tied to the dragons in Westeros. The Wall is an enormous work of magical infrastructure. Losing a dragon didn’t just give the dead a physical WMD, it enhanced their own magic. It’s not enough to burn the Wall by physical means, a dragon can destroy the magical wards within as well.
Oh, and that one complaint I mentioned? It is about this scene. Not about the scene itself, but that it is built on the events of earlier, more poorly written episodes. The quest beyond the Wall was a horrible, huge mistake. And an obvious one. This episode—and this scene—drive home just how massive a mistake that was. (And how is it that the Wall falling deserves only a couple minutes of screen time?)
Ok, two complaints. Strider gives this episode a 0/5 for zero direwolves.
Let’s talk about three things from this episode in conjunction. Cersei uses Ned’s honor against Jon, even namechecking Ned to make sure Jon does what she wants. Sam and Bran’s conversation confirms that Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie. And the final scene shows that that damned misguided mission handed the White Walkers the keys to the Wall. Game of Thrones gets a bad rap for being nihilistic. It isn’t entirely undeserved, but this looks like a Greek tragedy.
“You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” – The Hound to the Mountain. Who? Beric Dondarrion? He certainly was coming, but not always and he got a bit distracted. I can’t think of who else. Well, the Hound himself, I guess.
What can Dany do to unite the realm? Tune into this space tomorrow!
Is Edmure still in a Frey cell?
Do Tormund and Beric survive? I’m hoping yes, but what I really wanted was the two of them to leap off of the Wall onto the back of the Night King in an attempt to kill him and end the war right there. Unsuccessful, of course, because we have an entire season left, but it would have been great television.
Photos courtesy of HBO. Except the one of Strider.